Why won’t customers cooperate and just do what we ask?
The short answer is that in today’s marketing climate, customers are savvy. With so many choices, technological devices and brand messages bombarding the senses, it’s more difficult than ever now to get customers to do anything, let alone what you want them to do.
What this ultimately means is that if your call-to-action isn’t bold and relevant, customers will simply ignore your request without doing anything. And, if it isn’t authentic and relevant, they may simply dismiss it outright.
Before we discuss how to create a strong call-to-action—one that will resonate and encourage customers to take the next step of engagement—let’s first define what a call-to-action really is.
Call-to-Action Defined. Basically, it’s asking your customer to do anything. Understand that if you spend any time or money on a marketing tactic, you’ll always be better served by including a call-to-action. Always.
So, consider the following:
1. Establish a Hierarchy. A sound strategy can make or break your execution. Outline your goals and construct an actionable plan. Understand what exactly you’re asking readers to do, but always begin with a goal in mind. Be sure to include answers to questions that customers might have, like “What problem will this product or service solve?”
Strategically decide what decision path best fits your customer, and never create too many calls-to-action that ask the customer to do too many things. Everything should support your overall strategy and end game. Don’t let other requests compete with the ultimate action you want them to do. For example, if pushing customers to your website is the goal, don’t confuse them by consistently asking them to engage on a social site.
What do you want them to do first? Second? Do you want them to pick up the phone to learn more, go online to order? Plan your message hierarchy accordingly.
In the movie MoneyBall, Billy Bean challenged the way baseball players were being recruited. Instead of hiring the superstars, he and his analyst began recruiting those players who knew how to get on first base. The idea was simple. To win the pennant, they needed runs. To get runs, you needed players that knew how to hit and get on first base. One savvy direct marketer learned that getting on first base was all about getting a quote. His ability to close the quote process was exceptionally high, so he tweaked his marketing efforts, making the call-to-action “Call for a quote!” rather than focusing on the sale. And it worked. The number of quotes increased and sales followed.
The question to you is, “What is the simplest path to getting your customers on first base?”
2. Do Your Homework. Again, before you market any call-to-action, spend time in the mind of your customers. Know what truly compels and what motivates. Find the “higher order benefit,” or the emotional reason they do business with you. What are they seeking? Safety? A job done right? Peace of mind? Confidence? A trusted partner? It’s not just your products or service they’re buying, but the emotional hook.
Multiple studies have proven that close to 90 percent of all purchase decisions are based on an emotional need, not rational cues. It’s critical that you understand the emotional reason customers are doing business with you and then infuse that promise in your messaging.
Understanding customer triggers may require research. Once you know what motivates them, your ability to craft a message allows you to reach them more effectively and understand not only what they want, but how to encourage action. Tony Hsieh of Zappos coined the term ICEE, which stands for “Interesting, Compelling, Educational or Entertaining.” This acronym is a perfect filter when planning your call-to-action strategy. Make sure that any “hook” you create is interesting, compelling, educational or entertaining to your customers, not your marketing team.
New Pig is a B2B that sells spill cleanup supplies—from a product standpoint, not particularly sexy or unique. But when it comes to their customers, their messaging speaks right to their interests, wants and needs. They know their customers are hard working and have a sense of humor, and their biggest reason for doing business with New Pig is to maintain safety regulations and avoid fines. The first message when you visit their website is, “10 easy ways to keep OSHA out of your wallet,” which speaks right to the primary need. From there, every touchpoint reflects that hardworking-yet-irreverent personality of their customer base through their spokes-pig.
3. Make Your Call-to-Action a Call-to-Arms. Don’t be passive. The key word is “action.” Ask for what you want, but more importantly, tell customers what’s in it for them. A timid “follow us” or “go online for more” isn’t enough. Be direct. Be specific. Lead with verbs. Look at the difference it makes when you take a few carefully chosen words and aim them straight at your customer’s sense of self-interest:
• “Discover three secrets to dominating the field…Call now!”
• “Share your story and win seats to the Indy 500!”
Another effective way to connect with customers in the call-to-action is to call them by name. Multiple studies prove that people are instantly drawn to their name. Personalization helps cut through the clutter, and it’s fairly inexpensive for your online and even your print efforts.
4. Keep It Simple. Make what you’re asking customers to do easy. If the next step to get them engaged is too complicated or not readily apparent, you risk losing them before they can act.
This has certainly been the case with QR codes. Many marketers rushed to use this cool technique without fully understanding the steps to get customers from point A to point B. Even worse, once marketers were able to get customers to use QR codes, most offers only led to a company website, offering nothing new, useful or even interesting. QR codes are only successful when you offer something of true value on the other end.
Don’t forget that simplicity applies not only to the messaging itself, but also to the destination. Wherever you are asking them to go, make sure the process is incredibly intuitive or you may as well kiss your effort goodbye. Be specific; if it’s a landing page, offer them the actual URL. Don’t assume they’ll find it by searching your site. Simplicity rules.
5. Follow Through. Once you’ve asked customers to do something, what’s next? How are you going to move the activity along to get a sale or create another engagement opportunity?
Create a secondary call-to-action on the back end. If you are asking them to watch a video, offer an opportunity for the viewer to purchase or get more information. If you have an invitation, allow them to RSVP. Do they need to call for more information? Once you’ve gotten them to act, what are you doing to push customers to the next level? Include this as part of your hierarchy as outlined above. Once you get them, don’t lose them!
Relax The Back, a retailer specializing in back pain solutions, uses their catalog and postcards to urge customers to come to the retail store for a free pain assessment. They repeatedly invite customers and prospects to “Explore the Store for More,” and offer a QR code to make it easy to find the nearest store or to schedule an appointment. On the back end, they include an offer to sweeten the deal. Strategically, they know that getting a customer into the store is the easiest path to close a sale.
6. Test, Measure, Adapt. Test and measure, if possible. If your messages do not work, continue playing with all the components. Consider testing customer segments. Emails, for example, can be customized by segments (i.e., older versus newer customers) and purchase history, making them more relevant to specific buying groups.
Emails especially offer a great opportunity for testing. You can test different calls-to-action both in the subject line and in the body of the email to find out what really piques interest and moves the needle: Test “limited time” offers against “exclusive product” bundles; test a demo video against a downloadable white paper; test an ultra-short subject line against a long one—an oft-cited example of this in action, the Obama campaign’s most-opened email had the remarkably brief, 4-character subject line “Hey.”
On social sites, test special offers or engagement techniques that will lead them to your website or retail store. While many efforts may not work now, the consumer’s purchase patterns are changing so rapidly that you need to stay ahead of the game. Testing helps.
7. Be bold. The brands that are growing exponentially are the ones taking risks. Who knew that a gecko could sell insurance or that a Honey Badger could sell pistachios? In both cases, these brands took a risk while trying to break through the clutter. And it worked. Stepping outside your comfort zone and testing out-of-the-box ideas won’t work every time, but the one that does is worth the exponential growth that follows. If there was ever an industry that knew how to take risks, it’s the racing industry. And it goes to follow that your audience would be receptive to bold messaging!
Perfecting your call-to-action should pack a punch to your marketing efforts. Apply and repeat the steps above, always tweaking what’s needed to get customers engaged.